The media has dubbed today “Blue Monday” – supposedly the most depressing day of the year. Pseudoscience, probably, but it’s hard not to feel gloomy with a report out today from Oxfam showing that the world’s richest 1 per cent have increased their combined share of global wealth to almost half, and if current trends continue, next year will see them overtake the other 99 per cent. Equally striking is the finding that the combined wealth of 3.5bn people – half the world’s population – is matched by the wealth accumulated to just 80 individuals, who enjoy beneficial political influence by virtue of their assets, according to Oxfam.
This extreme concentration of wealth is not an abstract global problem, but one that’s visible on our own doorstep. New Equality Trust research shows that the richest 100 families in Britain in 2008 have since seen their combined wealth increase by at least £15bn. The wealth of the top 100 increased by a staggering rate of £1,268 per second last year, to equal that of nearly a third of UK households put together. And among the richest of the rich in this country, ten people saw their incomes rise by £3.1bn to an eye-watering £96.6bn.
Contrast this with a JRF report also out today, showing that more than 8m parents and children in the UK are living on family incomes which are inadequate for supporting a socially acceptable standard of living, an increase of over a third since 2008/9. Within this group, families headed by lone parents and those with a single breadwinner have faced significant increases in their likelihood of having to try to make ends meet on an insufficient income.
Given what we know about the negative health and social effects of pronounced economic disparity, these refreshed figures on accumulated wealth and increasingly inadequate incomes are great reason for concern. The three pieces of research come at the beginning of the week when politicians, civil society and business leaders are due to meet in Davos at the World Economic Forum to discuss key issues of global concern. Last year, inequality was a dominant theme, and experts have placed deepening income inequality in the top spot for 2015 as well. However, talking about inequality isn’t really getting us anywhere and concerted action globally and at home is urgently needed if we are to stem the upward flows of wealth and power.
Lucy Shaddock is Policy and Campaigns Officer at The Equality Trust